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Torah cautions us against mentioning idolatrous names

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Torah cautions us against mentioning idolatrous names

And the name of another deity you shall not invoke it should not be heard in your mouth. (Ex. 23:13)

Rabbi Nachman said: All mockery is forbidden except the mockery of idolatry, which is permitted. (Sanhedrin 63b)

A person should not say to his friend, "Wait for me by this specific idol" and the like…

It is forbidden to cause others to take vows or oaths in the name of a false deity… (Rambam, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 5:11)

A person is forbidden to utter the name "Sama'el", especially at night, since he [Sama'el] rules then. Whoever mentions his name - or any derivation, for example, "Diablo," which is a foreign term for "demon", or similar such terms - increases his [the demon's] strength.

One night, while speaking to people, I [R. Chaim Vital] mentioned the name Sama'el. In the morning, I saw my master [the Ari] and he asked me, "Why, last night, did you transgress the Torah prohibition 'And the name of another deity you shall not mention'?" Therefore, always be mindful not to mention his name, or any derivation, especially at night, because then, on account of you, he can overcome you and others - G‑d forbid!" (Taamei Mitzvot, parashat Mishpatim)

Upon examining these sources, one soon sees that there is an apparent distinction between the later teaching of the Ari and the earlier teaching of the Torah. The Ari prohibits the mentioning of the archangel Sama'el and his like, both in particular and in general. The Torah at its inception prohibits the mentioning of presumed deities like the Biblical era Baal Peor etc… (Rambam, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 5:11; see Sanhedrin 63b) Not that there is a contradiction between the Torah and the Ari but an explanation is required to further our understanding on the emphasis of each.

Upon closer analysis these different sources are two variegated expressions of one truth. What is required is an understanding of to what the term "Elo-him Acherim" (Hebrew for "other deities") refers. In essence, the Ari is explaining the literal level of the Torah in a Kabbalistic manner. That is to say, the Torah, in its primary layer is generally understood to address in its prohibition false deities. The Ari is saying that the "other deities" include evil powers that G‑d himself created - not just false deities. In case one finds the idea that G‑d creates evil heretical, it would be well to familiarize oneself with the verse, "[I G‑d am the one] who forms light and creates darkness, who make peace and creates evil; I am G‑d the maker of all these." (Isaiah 45:7; see also Berachot 11b) We give a little energy to the deprived evil angel so that he does not interfere with the rest of our holiness…

In essence, whether it is contemporary idolatry or ever present spiritual powers of evil ordained by G‑d in His wisdom, we are being taught that to utter their names is to strengthen them and is thus strictly forbidden both in Halacha and in Kabbala. (See Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 2-147:a,d.) Today, the false deities of the Bible's scriptures are considered discredited; thus, by saying them one does not encourage their believers nor are the potent as a tool for the Other Side. Accordingly, false deities mentioned in scripture are permitted to mention verbally. Let us clearly bear in mind that while evil has a purpose it is not our purpose as sons and daughters of Torah to facilitate its strength.

In actuality, the Kabbala teaches that at certain times we give a tiny "Bribe [energy] to Satan". (Zohar, parashat Teruma 154b) This, however, is limited to either having a few hairs of a cow sticking out of the head-tefillin that a man wears. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1-32:44) Alternatively, a little water from our second hand washing (mayim achronim) is given to the "Other Side" after a meal that includes bread. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 181a) Here the idea is that what we are doing is so holy that we give a little energy to the deprived evil angel so that he does not interfere with the rest of our holiness. The intention is that Evil should not thrive - but also not starve to the point where it carries out a desperate assault on us. However, this teaching is only to be applied as the Torah tradition suggests above and should not be the basis for self-experimentation. What a person may think is a small gesture might be infinitely more and not delivered in a balanced manner.

With regards to mentioning idolatrous and evil names of powers, most people have a lot of sensitivity training to undergo before they achieve a harmony with the Kabbalistic tradition's concern with minimizing the power of evil in the world through our speech.

Here are some common patterns that people need to work through: There is for instance, the tendency for Kabbalistic novices or the average person, in their fascination with the Other Side to mention the names or genres of these entities freely and without caution. This leads to the prohibited mentioning of names…because of cultural pressure to conform to the false doctrine of democratic divinity…

Another more problematic issue is that in the politically correct (sic) New Age culture of our time, Divinity has been "democratized"; all G‑d's are created equal in this paradigm. What this leads to the prohibited mentioning of names like Krishna, Jesus or even Buddha etc - either out of some false or distorted sense of respect owed these products of the human imagination or because of cultural pressure to conform to the false doctrine of democratic divinity. It would be wise for a sincere spiritual seeker to consult a knowledgeable Rabbi to best navigate this territory in their journey.

In general, the Halachic principle is that anything that people relate to as a false deity should not be mentioned by its proper name. This principle applies even if not all people relate to the object as such. Thus, although some people relate to them as mere human beings that are seen as achieving some higher state of consciousness, Jesus and Buddha are considered by many to be in the category of a deity, i.e., Catholics, Protestants, Mahayana Buddhists, etc…; thus, their names are forbidden to mention in their normative form. Some are of the Halachic opinion that if one is speaking against them in a situation that seems to require their proper mention, in order to communicate one's Torah perspective, one is permitted to say them. In a spirit of sacred antithesis to the political correctness of our times…we are allowed to mock idolatry…

Lastly, in a spirit of sacred antithesis to the political correctness of our times, we have Rabbi Nachman of the Talmud quoted above, transmitting to us that we are allowed to mock idolatry. The way this teaching gets translated in practice in Torah spirituality is that since we are generally forbidden to mention false deities like Jesus and Krishna, their names get changed to "Yushki" and "Kishka". These names are not only used for the purpose of not giving their roots power but also in a spirit of mockery. It is possible that many people who employ such terms are not conscious of the intent that should accompany them, i.e. hindering the power of evil. Thus, their using such terms seems vacant or merely arrogant. It takes courage and conscientiousness to weaken the Other Side through not mentioning the names of their powers. Ultimately, in Kabbala language is not just symbolic, it is invocative. We are being asked to be selective and thoughtful of what energies we evoke. This mitzvah is a true preparation for the Kabbalistic way in prayer, study and life. May we soon merit its integration into our spiritual path.

Zechariah Goldman is the founder of Devekut.com and is the author of 15 works on Torah spirituality. He lives with his wife and children in Los Angeles, California. He can be contacted at: alephbet@attbi.com
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